21 February 2006

USCGC Polar Star Arrives in Antarctica

For those of you that thought the Coast Guard never went beyond view of the shore line, USCG District 13 reports:
MCMURDO STATION, Antartica - The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star arrived in McMurdo Station, Antarctica Monday, after a non-stop 8,200 nautical mile transit from its homeport of Seattle.

Polar Star, a 399-foot polar class icebreaker with a 130-person crew, provided a relief channel and brief escort of U.S. Naval Ship Lawrence H. Gianella before mooring in McMurdo.

While on deployment, Polar Star will conduct icebreaking operations in McMurdo Sound and continue grooming a shipping channel previously opened by the Russian icebreaker Krasin. The channel ensures that vital cargo ships can deliver supplies to McMurdo Station, Antarctica's largest scientific and support community. Polar Star also acts as a floating research platform for scientists that travel onboard.

For the past 50 years, Coast Guard icebreakers have deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, where ships have broken through as much as 84 nautical miles of ice to produce a navigable shipping channel into McMurdo Station. This vital shipping channel allows supply ships to deliver more than six million gallons of fuel and four thousand metric tons of cargo, enabling McMurdo Station and South Pole Station to remain manned and operational throughout the harsh winter months.

Polar Star, which was specifically designed for solo icebreaking in remote Polar Regions, turned 30 years old Jan. 17. The cutter's red reinforced hull is made of 1.75 inches of steel that covers a specially contoured icebreaking bow. The cutter can call on 75,000 shaft horsepower enabling it to break up to 21 feet of ice. Polar Star has deployed 15 times in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
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Marine Corps Commandant Disputes QDR

The Commandant of the Corps has vehemently disputed the services end strength numbers. So much so, that he has resisted slashing numbers and is beginning his own study. Military.com reports:
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee, who disputes the Quadrennial Defense Review's recommendation to slash his service's end strength by 5,000 Marines, is launching his own study to re-examine the issue.

The Marine Corps' end strength now stands at about 180,000, Hagee told reporters Feb. 15 at a breakfast in Washington.

“I testified a couple of years ago that I thought we were in a spike and we could come down in a couple of years,” Hagee said. “I was mistaken on that and I think we're in a long war.” An end strength of 180,000 is “about right,” he said. The service can recruit and retain to that number, he added.

To be clear, the service's official budget funds 175,000 Marines. But given the pace of U.S. military operations around the world, Congress has authorized the service to have an end strength of 179,000. Further, Hagee noted, the defense secretary has some additional flexibility to have a slightly higher end strength, bringing the size of the force to about 180,000 Marines.

The 5,000 additional Marines not included in the regular defense budget have been supported through the Pentagon's annual request to Congress for emergency supplemental appropriations. But Congress is turning up the pressure on the Pentagon to include all predictable costs in the regular defense budget, instead of repeatedly relying on supplemental appropriations that bypass the defense authorization committees.

If the Pentagon bites the bullet and starts including such costs in its regular budget request, it would likely mean an increase for the total amount of Marine Corps funding in the budget -- the service's topline. But instead the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review recommends stabilizing the Marine Corps' active duty end strength at 175,000 and its Reserve end strength at 39,000 by fiscal year 2011. Hagee is undeterred.

“My sense is, as long as the war stays the way it is right now, somewhere around 180,000 is the right number,” Hagee told reporters. “If the supplementals go away . . . if our topline does not go up, then we are going to have to come down.”

Rear Adm. Stan Bozin, director of the Navy's budget office, recently suggested the QDR's recommendation to size the Marine Corps at 175,000 by FY-11 is not set in stone.

“Between now and FY-11, a lot of things can happen and we'll have those discussions as we go,” Bozin told reporters Feb. 6.

Asked how the Marine Corps would reconcile the difference between the QDR's recommendation and what he believes is needed, Hagee said there would be discussions with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“We're going to do that within OSD,” he said. The new Marine Corps force structure review -- which Hagee called a capabilities assessment -- is due to start in March and conclude by May. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson will lead the effort, Hagee said.

“It's going to look at what should a 180,000 Marine Corps look like and what should a 175,000 Marine Corps look like,” he continued. Officials will examine capabilities versus the amount of funding available, he said. “We'll make some decisions based on that,” he said. He predicted there would be big fights during the review.

“It's going to look at our operating forces in the light of the lessons that we've learned from the war right now, in the light of the QDR, in the light of some of the additional capabilities we're adding right now like the [Marine Corps Special Operations Command] and make sure we have structured the operating forces correctly with a plan that if the money is not there we would come down to 175,000,” he added. Current plans call for the new Marine Corps component of U.S. Special Operations Command to include 2,600 Marines, all of which would be counted in the service's overall force structure.

This is far from the first time the Marine Corps has re-examined its force structure. Most recently, Hagee set up a force structure review group after he became commandant in 2003. “They looked across the Marine Corps, came up with some areas where we could take risk,” he noted.

“I think now is the right time to do it again,” he said. “We have the QDR. We have the lessons learned from Iraq. . . . We have a much better understanding of this operational, cultural learning that we need to do.” Further, the study will help the Marine Corps prepare for the process of shaping the Pentagon's FY-08 long-term budget, he said.

A reporter asked Hagee if the Marine Corps would be better off with a permanent increase in end strength as opposed to the temporary increases now in effect.

“Well, that would require an increase in our topline,” Hagee said. “And that's one of the purposes of this assessment -- to say if we need to come down to [175,000], either [based on] battlefield changes [or] fiscal realities, what capabilities would we have to give up and is it worth it? Is that a capability that someone else could do? Should we increase the topline in order to retain that capability? So we want to have this discussion based on some hard facts.”

Hagee said the review could help the Marine Corps make the case for a permanent increase in end strength. At least it would inform officials about “what the consequences would be of either reducing or expending those additional funds.”

But Hagee does see some room for modifying existing Marine Corps organizations to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The service might be able to eliminate some headquarters and shift that structure into warfighting capability, he said.

“And that's another task that this study will have is to look at are we even organized correctly? Is the Napoleonic staff that we have used very successfully for years and years -- is it the right configuration for the future?”

At the tactical level, for instance, the service has had an intelligence department and an operations department, he said. “And it's worked very well. The intel department has templated the enemy and then the operations department has worked against that template,” he said. But it could be time for a change.

“On the battlefield today, as I said, there is no Army out there,” he said. “These [enemy] guys are very fast. And we've got to be able to operate inside of their decision cycle. Should we have a G-2 and a G-3? Should they be one organization? That's sort of my sense right now. If you combine those, are there some structure savings? Could you put those structure savings someplace else?”

The review is not expected to change the overall end strength of the Marine Corps Reserves, but it will examine whether they are organized correctly, Hagee said.

“Historically we said they should be a mirror image” of the active force, he said. “Is that right? Let me take a look at that and see.”

We are currently at war. Why are DOD bean-counters recommending troop strength / staffing numbers?

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20 February 2006

Carter Says "Don't Punish Palestine"

Thank God that the former nut farmer from Georgia is no longer in a postion of real power. In a recent Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, Jimmy Carter opines...

As the results of the recent Palestinian elections are implemented, it's important to understand how the transition process works and also how important to it are actions by Israel and the United States.

Although Hamas won 74 of the 132 parliamentary seats, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas retains the right to propose and veto legislation, with 88 votes required to override his veto. With nine of its elected members remaining in prison, Hamas has only 65 votes, plus whatever third-party support it can attract. Abbas also has the power to select and remove the prime minister, to issue decrees with the force of law when parliament is not in session, and to declare a state of emergency. As commander in chief, he also retains ultimate influence over the National Security Force and Palestinian intelligence.

At least you mentioned that NINE of the elected members are in prison. NINE, Jimmy. How is it that you weren't re-elected.

The role of the prime minister was greatly strengthened while Abbas and Ahmed Qureia served in that position under Yasser Arafat, and Abbas has announced that he will not choose a prime minister who does not recognize Israel or adhere to the basic principles of the "road map." This could result in a stalemated process, but my conversations with representatives of both sides indicate that they wish to avoid such an imbroglio. The spokesman for Hamas claimed, "We want a peaceful unity government." If this is a truthful statement, it needs to be given a chance.

Peaceful unity government? Didn't you just say that these guys cut their teeth under Arafat? Arafat -- what a peace-nick.

During this time of fluidity in the formation of the new government, it is important that Israel and the United States play positive roles. Any tacit or formal collusion between the two powers to disrupt the process by punishing the Palestinian people could be counterproductive and have devastating consequences.

The ruling party has called for the elimination of Israel. Where is the take-off point for discussion relative to a statement like that?

Unfortunately, these steps are already underway and are well known throughout the Palestinian territories and the world. Israel moved yesterday to withhold funds (about $50 million per month) that the Palestinians earn from customs and tax revenue.
Don't worry Jimmy, I am sure that plenty of Riyals will be heading towards the coffers of the Palestinian Authority. Your buddy the Ayatollah will see to this.

The election of Hamas candidates cannot adversely affect genuine peace talks, since such talks have been nonexistent for over five years. A negotiated agreement is the only path to a permanent two-state solution, providing peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians. In fact, if Israel is willing to include the Palestinians in the process, Abbas can still play this unique negotiating role as the unchallenged leader of the PLO (not the government that includes Hamas).

It would not violate any political principles to at least give the Palestinians their own money; let humanitarian assistance continue through U.N. and private agencies; encourage Russia, Egypt and other nations to exert maximum influence on Hamas to moderate its negative policies; and support President Abbas in his efforts to ease tension, avoid violence and explore steps toward a lasting peace.

Cuba, Jimmy. Cuba.

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If Only They Could Collect

If only they could collect on this debt. Military.com reports.
SALT LAKE CITY - A soldier wounded in Afghanistan and the widow of his slain comrade were awarded a $102.6 million judgment from the estate of a suspected al-Qaida financier.

U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell said the lawsuit may be the first filed by an American soldier against terrorists under the Patriot Act.

But Sgt. Layne Morris, of West Jordan, and the family of medic Christopher Speer, could have a difficult time collecting their award, because the assets of the suspected financier are unknown.

Other soldiers have difficulty identifying their attackers, making it difficult to hold individuals responsible.

Morris cited news reports - including interviews with his attacker's immediate family - indicating that Omar Khadr, then 15, had wounded him and killed Speer. The ruling, released Friday, cited similar evidence that the boy's father, suspected financier Ahmad Sa'id Khadr, was linked to al-Qaida and trained his son to attack American targets.

Morris and Speer, who served with the 19th Special Forces, were attacked with grenades and automatic weapons in a remote Afghanistan village. Shrapnel severed the optic nerve in Morris' right eye, blinding him.

Soldiers arrested the boy, who is being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The Canadian government has protested the boy's imprisonment, because he is a minor.

In November, the U.S. government charged the boy with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and aiding the enemy.

The ruling said the younger Khadr was 4 years old when his family moved from Canada to Pakistan, where his father co-founded a humanitarian relief organization that supported al-Qaida terrorist training camps. The boy returned to Canada in 1994, where he attended school for a year while his father was imprisoned in Pakistan on charges of funding the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan, the court said.

The next year the family allegedly traveled throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, meeting al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden. It is believed the father was killed in a firefight in Pakistan.

Attorney Dennis Flynn said the U.S. and Canadian governments have frozen the assets of the elder Khadr.

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10 February 2006

Drinking Water is Eco Unfriendly

Once again, the knuckleheads at "We know everything and you are all a bunch of oil-consuming, trans-fat eating sheep" have the cajones to tell us to quit drinking bottled water -- especially in Mexico. AFP (via Yahoo!) reports.
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Bottled water consumption, which has more than doubled globally in the last six years, is a natural resource that is heavily taxing the world's ecosystem, according to a new US study.

"Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is increasing, producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy," according to Emily Arnold, author of the study published by the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental group.

Arnold said although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can end up costing 10,000 times more.

"At as much as 2.50 dollars per liter (10 dollars per gallon), bottled water costs more than gasoline," the study says.

It added that the United States was the largest consumer of bottled water, with Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or about one eight-ounce (25 cl) glass per person every day.

Mexico was the second largest consumer at 18 billion liters followed by China and Brazil at 12 billion liters each.

In terms of consumption per person, Italians came first at nearly 184 liters, or more than two glasses a day, followed by Mexico and the United Arab Emirates with 169 and 164 liters per person respectively.

Belgium and France follow close behind and Spain ranks sixth.

The study said that demand for bottled water soared in developing countries between 1999 and 2004 with consumption tripling in India and more than doubling in China during that period.

That has translated into massive costs in packaging the water, usually in plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is derived from crude oil, and then transporting it by boat, train or on land.

"Making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 US cars for a year," according to the study. "Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year."

Once the water is consumed, disposing the plastic bottles poses an environmental risk.

The study, citing the Container Recycling Institute, said that 86 percent of plastic water bottles in the United States end up as garbage and those buried can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.

In addition, some 40 percent of the PET bottles deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 ended up being shipped to China.

The study warned that the rapid growth in the industry has also ironically led to water shortages in some areas, including India where bottling of Dasani water and other drinks by the Coca-Cola company has caused shortages in more than 50 villages.

It said that while consumers tend to link bottled water with healthy living, tap water can be just as healthy and is subject to more stringent regulations than bottled water in many regions, including Europe and the United States.

"In fact, roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water," the study says. "Often the only difference is added minerals that have no marked health benefits.
By the way, you forgot to mention that most bottled water is ozone-treated to kill impurities. Tasty.

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'Toon Protesters

The Jawa Report posts an excellent photo montage of the ROP in action relative to the Dane-toons. Evidently, sign and banner manufacturers are earning quite a few riyals these days.

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Hamas's Lesson?

Gary LaMoshi at AsiaTimesOnlinedotcom proffers the thought that the spread of democracy in muslim climes will not garner the results anticipated.
DENPASAR, Bali - Observers have focused on one obvious lesson from Hamas' victory in the Palestinian election: democracy in the Middle East may not produce the results the United States wants. But there's a larger global lesson particularly applicable in Indonesia, the latest US poster country for democracy in the Muslim world.

The Bush administration's embrace of democracy as the answer for the Middle East is another symptom of its allergy to unwelcome facts. The theory proposes that democracy will produce regimes friendly to US policies. That just ain't so.

If the US theory worked in Israel, the closest thing to a democracy in the region, then Shimon Peres would have been Prime Minister for the past decade, rather than the Likudniks. If it worked in Iran, the most democratic Muslim country there, the world wouldn't be fretting over potential nuclear-weapons development.

In Latin America, democracy first produced a wave of free marketers the US could love; later results show a swing to the left, including virulently anti-US Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Democracy produces results that are far more likely to reflect the aspirations and hopes of people on the street, based on local issues, than the dreams of the White House.

This lesson isn't new. US policymakers have known it for decades and, current rhetoric aside, it's doubtful they've forgotten it. From the Shah of Iran to the House of Saud, Sese Seko Mobutu to Ferdinand Marcos, Augusto Pinochet to Park Chung-hee, the US has traditionally favored "our SOB" (an apocryphal quote attributed to presidents as far back as Franklin Roosevelt) over free and fair elections. Often, the US predicted chaos if its man fell, and in some cases, such as the former Zaire, it's been proved right.

Today in the Middle East, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Saudi royals suffer occasional public prodding over a lack of democracy. But it's just lip service, similar to US 1960s and 1970s criticism of apartheid South Africa. It's the same with that great US ally in its global "war on terror", Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

While the US habitually encourages democratic window-dressing and sometimes wins marginal concessions, if push comes to shove, those regimes know the US will be in their corner for strategic reasons, whatever they do or don't do at the ballot boxes.

In Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the US fears that full-blown democracy could lead to the same results as in the Palestinian election: a victory for radical Islamic parties. US analysis is probably correct, and the Hamas victory illustrates why.

Hamas' venomous views on Israel get virtually all the attention in the US, but those weren't the deciding factor in the Palestinian election. Palestinians didn't vote to push Israel into the sea, but to toss corrupt Fatah officials off the boat. Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat reportedly stashed away billions during his decades as head of Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Despite a steady stream of aid dollars from the United Nations, the West and the Gulf states, average Palestinians have seen little progress or development. The key to Hamas' victory was that voters perceived it as honest, a reputation aided by a social-services network benefiting ordinary Palestinians.

That doesn't mean Hamas is a bunch of boy scouts. Voters may have cast their ballots against corruption, but they also get "death to Israel" as part of the Hamas package. Palestinians saw corruption as their overriding concern, and either ignored the rest or decided it was an acceptable price for cleaner government. As much as the struggle with Israel, corruption had become an obvious, if not unbearable, burden in the daily lives of average Palestinians, and they seized the opportunity to do something about it at the ballot box. Saudis and Egyptians would, too, most likely, as Pakistanis have when given the chance.

In Indonesia, a similar scenario may be unfolding, with the US working the wrong side of the street. Indonesia places in the top five in global corruption rankings, largely thanks to the legacy of the (US-backed) Suharto regime. Democratically elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made fighting corruption a top priority, but progress has been spotty.

The Indonesian military, the centerpiece of Suharto's New Order, remains the nexus of much of Indonesia's corruption, but it also remains largely beyond the reach of civilian authorities. US moves to restore full ties with the military will only serve to strengthen its clout and broaden its impunity (see US 'national security' favors Indonesian thugs, December 2, 2005).

One political party has made corruption its top issue and gained growing appeal, the Prosperous Justice Party (known by its Indonesian abbreviation PKS, which, ironically, also abbreviates the politically correct term for prostitute). PKS was one of just two parties to gain votes in the 2004 legislative elections compared with the 1999 national vote. At its national convention last August, PKS targeted 20% of the vote, which would place it in the top three among Indonesia's political parties, if not the largest, and allow it to run a presidential candidate.

Chosen Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, then-PKS leader Hidayat Nur Wahid (no relation to former Indonesian president and reformist cleric Abdurrahman Wahid) won plaudits with a declaration that he would forgo many of the job's perks, including the fancy limousine and hotel suite.

His act underscored how far PKS stands out from other parties: PKS portrays itself as privileged to serve the public, while Indonesian politicians typically view service as an entitlement to privilege (see Indonesia's transition: The good, the bad and the ugly, October 20, 2004).

PKS is an Islamic party, known for working at the grassroots level through mosques, and some adherents fear that the pursuit of political power has distracted it from its original mission, preaching. In its campaigns, PKS plays down extremist Islamist positions and shrouds its support for sharia (Islamic) law. In the Far Eastern Economic Review last May, Sadanand Dhume sounded alarm bells about PKS's fanaticism, an article that may have been more extreme than any PKS views.

There is no comparison between Hamas and PKS, except that they are both Islam-based parties that have gained by following the Koran's invocation of dakwah, good works on Earth. The point is not how far apart they are or how radical PKS may be now or become later. The point is that Islamism isn't what wins votes.

In the 2004 vote, PKS also became the biggest party in Jakarta's city council. There's no plurality for sharia in Jakarta, by far Indonesia's most cosmopolitan and pluralistic urban center. But Jakarta is also arguably Indonesia's corruption center, and its municipal government is famously unresponsive and dysfunctional, except for funneling wealth to officials.

Like their Palestinian counterparts, Jakarta voters were ready to accept or ignore PKS's Islamist baggage in favor of a more pressing issue. Indonesia's Islamic parties have polled roughly a third of the vote in every legitimate national election, but the door is wide open for PKS or more radical parties, if they can establish and retain their anti-corruption credentials, to succeed across Indonesia.

Corruption, not Islamism, is the issue that's going to win hearts and minds in Indonesia, and the sooner Washington realizes that, the better the chances that secular, moderate parties will continue to carry the day. It's not about supporting the military as a bulwark against radicalism, it's about encouraging clean government. If Bill Clinton's political adviser James Carville had the White House's ear, he'd frame the issue in a way even George W Bush could understand it: It's the corruption, stupid.
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07 February 2006

Taiwan Pres is a Troublemaker???

Once again, Bejing is flexing it's muscles regarding all things Taiwan. The Times of India reports:
BEIJING: China condemned Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's plan to scrap 15-year-old official guidelines on unification on Wednesday, calling him a "troublemaker" and "saboteur" of peace and stability in Asia.
Peace and stability in Asia. Please tell me more...
Chen, seeking to shake off Beijing's claim of sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, told a rally on Lunar New Year's Day on January 29 that it was time to consider scrapping the island's National Unification Council and its guidelines on unification with the mainland.

"This demonstrates once again that he is a troublemaker and saboteur of cross-Strait relations and peace and stability in Asia," Li Weiyi, spokesman for policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference without mentioning Chen by name.

Li stopped short of saying whether scrapping the guidelines and council, which was set up in 1990 and was once the island's top policy-making body on the issue of unification, would lead to war. The council has been dormant since Chen took office in 2000, ending five decades of Nationalist rule.

Beijing has vowed to attack Taiwan if the island formally declares statehood. The two sides split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 when the defeated Nationalists fled into exile on the island.
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Havana "Flags" Billboards

The Castro regime has found a waving interest in electronic reader boards in the U.S. Interests Section of Havana. The interest focuses on blocking scrolling news headlines, quotes from famous figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King, Jr., and fragments of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The Daily Journal (Caracas) reports:
HAVANA – “This is just more of the same,” a man walking his dog along one of the streets that leads up to the U.S. Interests Section in the Cuban capital told IPS. He was referring to nearly 150 flag poles that now occupy what used to be part of the U.S. diplomatic mission’s parking lot.

The forest of flag poles, some of which are over 30 meters tall, was put in place over the past two weeks by the Cuban government in retaliation for an electronic billboard stretching across the front of the Interests Section building.

Since mid-January, the giant sign has been scrolling news headlines, quotes from famous figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King, Jr., and fragments of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. According to Michael Parmly, chief of the U.S. Interests Section, “What we are trying to do is communicate with the Cuban people.”

The flag poles are apparently de-signed to create a barrier in front of the electronic sign, which is located behind glass on the fifth floor of the Interests Section building. The flag pole project officially formed part of an expansion of the “Anti-Imperialist Plaza”, which was built five years ago outside of the U.S. Interests Section. According to rumors that have not been confirmed, the mysterious new site is meant to symbolize the Cuban people’s “years of struggle” for independence, and will be unveiled at a giant rally announced for Monday evening, called to commemorate those who have lost their lives in violent acts against Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

Behind him, as he walked away, the U.S. diplomatic mission continued broadcasting its messages, which included “The fast pace of construction is impressive. It shows the potential of Cuban workers”, “Havana residents comment that the funds would have been better spent on widespread repairs”, and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (a quote from British writer George Orwell).

“The U.S. Interests Section is a center for provocation. No embassy in the world places billboards on the front of their building,” dissident Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo remarked to IPS.
But Gutiérrez Menoyo, who re-turned from exile in Miami in August 2003 to live in Havana, although without official permission, dismissed the idea that the “billboard war” would trigger a complete break between the two countries.

In the meantime, the escalating tensions did nothing to interfere with a meeting held in Mexico on Friday and Saturday between representatives of U.S. oil companies and Cuban energy sector authorities.
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